By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
For years, former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe pleaded for a national debate on the future of mail services.
Now Donahoe has left office and at least one of the national candidates is talking postal.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, issued a call Aug. 26 to Postmaster General Megan Brennan for the United States Postal Service to “offer more, not fewer, services.”
What prompted that call was Sanders’ argument that the delivery of letter mail has become too slow under Brennan.
Citing a recent report by the United States Postal Service’s inspector general, Sanders told Brennan that having a 48 percent increase in letters delivered late in the first six months of this year was “unacceptable and must change.”
“In light of the significant slowdown in mailer delivery, I am writing to urge you to reinstate the regional overnight delivery standards and to do everything possible to speed up these services,” Sanders said.
“It is abundantly clear that the Postal Service’s decision to shut down more than 140 mail processing plants a few years ago and to eliminate overnight delivery standards this year has been a disaster that is negatively impacting Americans all over the country,” he continued.
Noting that USPS “and many Republicans” have claimed that the cuts are necessary because of the sharp decline in first-class letters, Sanders blamed the administration of Republican George W. Bush for the agency’s financial problems in a two-page letter to Brennan.
The Bush administration insisted in 2006 that any new postal law require USPS be given 10 years in which to pre-fund the future health care benefits to be paid all postal retirees.
Congress incorporated the change in a law that Sanders said is largely responsible for the Postal Service’s deficits.
In his letter, Sanders claimed “broad bipartisan support” in Congress for improving mail deliveries.
The Senate, he noted, has placed in it budget resolution moratorium on postal plant closings and the House Appropriations Committee has approved a measure returning mail deliveries to 2012 standards.
“You have stated that any delivery beyond 2-3 days is a ‘failure’ and I agree,” Sanders told Brennan.
“At a time when the Postal Service is competing with the instantaneous communications of e-mail and high-speed internet services, we should be putting in place policies to speed up delivery of mail, not slow it down,” the senator said.
Postal unions, which have been saying the same thing as Sanders, were cheered by the presidential candidate raising the issue of mail deliveries on the national stage.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the large American Postal Workers Union, said: “In light of such broad congressional support, widespread customer dissatisfaction, and the disastrous findings from the Inspector General’s office, the Postmaster General would be wise to heed Sen. Sanders’s advice and restore overnight service standards to American communities.”
Sarah Ninivaggi, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said: “We’re in the process of responding to the letter, and don’t have any further comment at this time.”
It’s not the debate Donahoe may have wanted, but the cost-cutting policies he set in motion have at least one of the major presidential candidates questioning the future of current mail services.